HomeBlocksFront-GridChamber Honors Iconic Burbankers at Excellence Awards Ceremony

Chamber Honors Iconic Burbankers at Excellence Awards Ceremony

Photos by
David Laurell
Burbank Leader


While a utility bill, lease agreement or property deed are all ways of proving Burbank residency, being a real “Burbanker” demands a different type of proof.

To verify that one is a true resident of this community, they must have eaten at the Tallyrand restaurant, been to a car show put on by the Burbank Road Kings and seen a photo in a newspaper or online taken by Ross Benson.

Romik Hacobian of Media City Design, who received the Emerging Small Business of the Year Award, with his wife, Lusine Simonyan Hacobian

Oh, and to confirm that one is a genuine dyed-in-the-Burroughs-red-or-Burbank-blue-wool Burbanker, they must be greeted by name at the Tallyrand and have no need to see a menu to order, had their newspaper delivered by Road Kings past President Bruce Borst when he was a kid, and actually had their photo taken, numerous times, by Benson.

This past week, the Burbank Chamber of Commerce honored the venerable restaurant, car club and photographer at their annual Excellence Awards ceremony. The evening, held on the campus of the Burbank Water and Power complex, also saw the recognition of two individuals who are rapidly emerging as the next generation of star Burbankers, and keys to the city presented to the Walt Disney Company, represented by Joan McCarthy, and Warner Bros. Discovery, represented by Michael Walbrecht, on their respective centennial celebrations.

Hosted by Burbank Chamber of Commerce CEO Jamie Keyser Thomas, who stressed that the night was about honoring small businesses, and emceed by former NBC4 weatherman Fritz Coleman, the event drew close to 300 attendees who, sustained by tasty offerings from local eateries, enjoyed an evening that proved to be inspirational and emotional.

After welcoming the assemblage, Coleman explained why after a 38-year career at NBC4 he decided to retire.

“It was because of climate change,” Coleman explained. “In today’s world, people now take weather very seriously, and I was hired from the Comedy Store. I was basically the male version of Vanna White with maps.”

Nathaniel Beaver of Parry-Riposte Films, who was named the 2023 Ambassador of the Year, with Leslie Smith, chamber member services director

The evening’s first recognition — Small Business of the Year — was bestowed upon Karen Ross, who owns the Tallyrand with her brother Mark.

The sibling’s parents, Al and Delores, opened the Tallyrand in 1959, said Poquito Más owner Kevin McCarney, who presented the award. “Throughout those 64 years, those who have eaten there were never customers, they were guests.”

Calling the West Olive Avenue restaurant a “circle of life,” where uncountable memories have been made over classic comfort food and a “town hall” where the issues of the day have always been discussed and debated, McCarney invited Ross to the podium.

Emotionally lauding her parents who are now both gone, Ross thanked her staff represented by Benji Garcia who has been tending bar at the restaurant for 45 years, and Francisco Martinez, Sharon Landin, Marisa Sanders and Jackie Woodward who have a combined total of more than 100 years of employment at the Tallyrand.

“I am deeply grateful to our staff who made it possible for us to get through our most challenging time, helping me with all the pivots of the pandemic, and to my brother Mark, my husband Brett, my son Matt, and my daughter Katie for being a part of our family tradition of serving people.”

Following former Mayor Bob Frutos’ presentation of the Heroes of Burbank Award to the Road Kings, represented by past President Don Baldaseroni, current President Karen Arellano, the first woman to lead the classic car club, and Vice President Richard Cohn, Keyser Thomas paid an in-memoriam tribute to longtime chamber ambassador Jeanne Vlazny Johnson who died last month.

Tallyrand owner Karen Ross, who received the Small Business of the Year Award, with Burbank Chamber of Commerce CEO Jamie Keyser Thomas.

“When I look at you, I see all that is good in the world,” he said as she joined him at the podium.

The evening saw the chamber’s 2022 Ambassador of the Year Vickie Beckett present this year’s Ambassador Award to Nathaniel Beaver, the founder of Parry-Riposte Films, and Albert Hernandez bestow the Emerging Small Business Award upon Romik Hacobian of Media City Design.

Lauding the impact of numerous strong women in his life whom he attributes his success to, Hacobian credited Keyser Thomas as “a visionary” for her leadership at the chamber, and thanked his wife, Lusine Simonyan Hacobian, for all she means to him.

With emotions running high throughout the assemblage, Gema Sanchez took it to the next level as she presented the Heart of the City Award to Benson.

If someone were to ever write a book chronicling the most legendary Burbankers of all time, those who have done the most to positively impact this city, the chapter on Ross Benson would be one of the longest.

For more than 50 years, working with the Burbank Daily Review, the Burbank Leader, the Burbank Times and MyBurbank, Ross has photographed, interviewed and written about local events, city managers, mayors, City Councilmembers, candidates, business leaders, shop owners, gadflies, those involved in every level of the film and television industry, developers, planners, those of the nonprofit and faith-based communities, and hundreds upon hundreds of citizens who have all done something newsworthy (good or bad).

Saturday’s ceremony saw the Heroes of Burbank Award presented to the Road Kings represented by Karen Arellano and Richard Cohn.

As a clearly emotional Benson steadied himself behind the podium he admitted to being “a crier” before pulling a seemingly endless multi-colored handkerchief out of his shirt pocket to handle his waterworks.

As he thanked the chamber, his son Matt and his late mother Lois, a contingent of Burbank firefighters took the stage behind him to show their gratitude for the many years of support and volunteerism he has given to the department.

“I love this city — my city — and all of you who have been a part of my life for my 67 years,” said the Burbank-born Benson, who would be celebrating his birthday in less than 48 hours.

The Burbank Chamber of Commerce established the Excellence Awards to honor the achievements of the local business community. This annual event recognizes the best and brightest businesses in Burbank and honors their contributions to the local economy and community.

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

First published in the May 20 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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